In the wake of the widespread and unchecked killings in virtually every region in the country, the National Assembly has set up an Ad-hoc Committee on Security and the Review of Security Infrastructure in Nigeria to fast-track an amendment of the 1999 constitution to provide for the establishment of police departments by states. Their decision was even preceded by an unequivocal call by the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who while declaring open a security summit had advocated for State Police and community policing, arguing that the federal government could not realistically provide security for Nigerian from the centre.
Coming after President Muhammadu Buhari shocked the people with his allusion that calls for state police and restructuring of the federation are “parochial” and self-serving; the federal lawmaker’s decision is heart-warming. However, the National Assembly should not succumb to knee jerk reaction by just going for the establishment of state police. The symptoms of the inadequacies of a monopolistic federal police had been with us for a long time and the solution should not be simplified by just authorising states to set up their own police departments.
Too many powers are concentrated at the centre with the overbearing number of items on the exclusive list laying the foundation for an wieldy and ineffectual federation the country is now confronted with. From revenue generation and distribution to development of infrastructure, taxation, involvement of the private sector in the management of the economy to even the democratic process in the running of political parties, Nigeria has progressively morphed into a command and control behemoth. Such is the considerable power wielded by the centre that it lacks the structure to exercise the powers it had amassed. This largely accounts for the emergence of so-called “cabals” who exploit the weaknesses inherent with the prevailing system to hijack access to power given their proximity and capacity to manipulate the same power.
The proposed constitutional review in the works by the National Assembly should not be narrowed to just state and community policing. Rather, it should be a more holistic exercise that should factor in all the components for equipping the states with the wherewithal to optimise their ability to harness the potentials in their environment. Power generation and distribution, revenue generation and allocation, our defective political and electoral structure whereby the 774 local governments are enshrined in the constitution and made the exclusive of the federal government to create, post-primary education under which so-called unity schools in all states are run by the federal government at huge costs but with no corresponding benefit are some of the issues that should be simultaneously handled with the proposed state police bill.
It is perhaps fortuitous that it took the alarming killings which it must be said had been going on for years but escalated under the present administration for Nigeria’s political leadership to realise the level of harm the present political structure which, by no means, is federal in character, has wrought on the development of the country.
However, the enormity of obstacles on the path to reforming the country for the benefit of all must not be under-estimated. Of course, the most formidable obstacle is the shocking stance of President Buhari. By using the most excoriating superlative – “parochial” and “self-serving” – to restate his bitter opposition to devolving powers away from the centre to states, the president has shown that he is prepared to use the executive powers of his office to scuttle the progressive venture to put the country on a sound trajectory for sustained development. Although disappointing, Buhari’s stance does not quite come as a surprise. Even though he road on the platform of change and restructuring of the federation which his party espoused in the run up to the 2015 elections, Buhari is a product of the command and control mentality of the military that foisted the present defective federation on the country. More importantly, he represents the extreme conservative segment of the northern political establishment that for reasons without any bearing to building a prosperous country is fixated on sustaining and even deepening the current structure that is holding the country down.
Mindful of the obstacles, the National Assembly should reach out to all relevant stakeholders, including state governors, leadership of the various state houses of assembly, civil society organisations, youth groups, the private sector, among others to build a consensus needed to shoo back reactionary forces that will undoubtedly seek to scuttle the restructuring exercise given that they have a point man as president.
However, the beauty of democratic rule is the ability of rule of law anchored on the wish and insistence of the majority to have its way. The onus is now on federal lawmakers to galvanise the rest of the country for the task ahead. Our country is on the threshold of taking decisive steps that may define and decide the fate of the country. The path to nationhood is never paved in gold. It takes the dogged determination of leaders to shed personal interests and comfort to create the right atmosphere where every citizen can proudly hold aloft the banner of pride and patriotism for one’s country. This time will determine the extent these can be achieved in Nigeria.